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Phillips Loves the Johnson Challenge

June 30, 1997|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

Seattle left-hander Randy Johnson might be baseball's most intimidating pitcher, a 6-foot-10 menace with a 98-mph fastball and a nasty slider. He's so tough one of baseball's best hitters, Colorado's Larry Walker, refused to face him.

But Tony Phillips, the 5-10 Angel with the don't-back-down-from-anyone attitude, can't seem to get enough of Johnson.

"I love facing that guy," Phillips said after Sunday's loss. "I could strike out four times against him or I could get four hits, it doesn't matter. I'd rather face Randy Johnson four times with no one in the stands . . . he gets me that pumped because he's the best."

Johnson, who struck out 19 against Oakland on Tuesday night, was not his usually dominant self Sunday, striking out only seven. The Angels took advantage of two Joey Cora errors to score unearned runs in the third and seventh innings, the latter coming on Phillips' RBI single.

But the Angels couldn't score off Bobby Ayala after loading the bases in the ninth and lost it on Jose Cruz Jr.'s ninth-inning homer.

"When you face Randy Johnson and you have a chance to win the game but don't, that's a huge missed opportunity," Angel Manager Terry Collins said. "We're certainly not happy with the outcome."


Angel starter Dennis Springer virtually matched Johnson on Sunday--both had five strikeouts through six innings--and the knuckleballer came up with some clutch pitches of his own, striking out Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner with a runner on third to end the third.

But Springer didn't see himself as locking horns with Johnson.

"It wasn't me against Randy--I don't beat him, I beat them," Springer said. "But it helped me mentally facing Randy. You can't give up a lot of runs, because you know he's not going to give up much."

Springer, who threw 144 pitches, tore the cuticle of his right index finger in the fifth inning but remained in the game.

"It stung," he said, "but with all these guys playing with torn cartilage and stuff, I wasn't going to come out because of a torn cuticle."


The second-guessing in the Angel clubhouse wasn't limited to Rich DeLucia's ill-fated fastball that Cruz smashed for his home run.

Tim Salmon was kicking himself for looking at a full-count fastball that was called for a strike with the bases loaded to end the ninth.

"It looked outside on the replay, but I guess it was too close to take," Salmon said. "I should have just swung. You live and learn, but it seems like I've learned that lesson somewhere along the line, though."


* Opponent--Colorado Rockies, two games.

* Site--Coors Field, Denver.

* Tonight--6 PDT

* TV--Channel 9 tonight, Tuesday.

* Radio--KTZN (710).

* Records--Angels 41-38, Rockies 42-39.

* Record vs. Rockies--First meeting.


ANGELS' (1-0, 3.12 ERA) vs. ROCKIES' DARREN HOLMES (3-1, 3.91 ERA)

Update--Manager Terry Collins, the former Houston manager, believes his experience playing in the launching pad that is Coors Field could help the Angels. "Most teams play their outfield deep because the ball carries so well," Collins said. "But then a lot of balls that could be outs drop in, and that's what leads to those big innings. When I was with Houston, we'd play the outfielders at regular depth, figuring if the ball goes over their heads it's a home run." The Rockies, who have gone 21-30 since their franchise-best 21-9 start, lead the National League with 118 homers. Right fielder Larry Walker leads the majors in hitting (.410) and extra-base hits (52) and the NL with 24 homers. First baseman Andres Galarraga leads the majors in RBIs with 81, 40 of them in the last 36 games.

* Tuesday, noon--Chuck Finley (3-6, 5.71) vs. John Burke (2-2, 5.60).

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